Why Your Body Needs Zinc

This metal plays important roles in functions from immune response, to wound healing, and more
June 2, 2021 Updated: June 3, 2021

Zinc is an unsung dietary hero. It’s so essential that your cells wouldn’t know what to do without it. It’s an important trace mineral found throughout your body, second only to iron in its prevalence in human cells and tissues. Zinc plays a part in critical processes such as wound healing, immune system response, and functions such as cellular growth and repair.

There’s even an established link between zinc levels and respiratory health, giving zinc added importance during cold and flu season and whenever your body is under stress.

Zinc: Why You Need It

Have you ever wondered why people take zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold? Evidence suggests that supplementing with zinc within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms may help shorten the length of colds. Oral supplementation in the form of zinc lozenges, capsules, and syrup are preferable to intranasal zinc, which has been linked with the loss of sense of smell in some individuals.

Another function of zinc is the regulation of metabolism. Found in more than 300 enzymes, zinc is critical to digestion and allows us to absorb and metabolize essential micronutrients. Zinc deficiency can lead to malnutrition, which is a major problem worldwide.

Adequate zinc intake is especially important for children of all ages or if you are pregnant or lactating. Deficiency of zinc during formational times could lead to retarded growth of biological systems like the gastrointestinal tract and skeletal, immune, and reproductive systems.

Top Zinc-Rich Foods

Unlike iron, which is contained inside cellular components in your body, zinc permeates cells and tissues, performing critical structural, catalytic, and regulatory functions. That’s why getting an adequate intake of zinc through your diet or supplementation is so important.

Safeguarding against zinc deficiency means having a varied diet fortified with zinc-rich foods. Proteins such as pastured beef and poultry, and sustainably harvested, wild-caught fish and oysters are all good sources of this essential mineral. Vegetarian sources include organic cereals, beans, nuts, oats, and tofu.

While adults and seniors have the same average physiological requirements for zinc, absorption can decrease as you age. High-quality, bioavailable supplements can ensure that you meet your body’s unique needs, especially during times of increased stress or poor eating.

Zinc: A Very Precious Metal

Research into zinc’s importance has identified several beneficial mechanisms through which zinc, a group 2B metal, can have on the human body:

  • Antioxidant properties, protecting cells from damage by free radicals
  • Stabilizes organelles, structures within a cell that control functions such as growth and energy production
  • Anti-apoptotic agent, protecting cells from death
  • Important cofactor in the synthesizing of DNA strands
  • Vital component of wound healing
  • Acting as an anti-inflammatory agent

These vital functions make zinc supplementation important for anyone facing illness. For asthmatics and sufferers of respiratory tract infections, zinc may be one of your best dietary defensive strategies.

Zinc for Respiratory Health

A 2021 study, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, identified acute respiratory tract infections as a leading cause of illness and death worldwide. Researchers did a meta-analysis to estimate the pooled effects that supplementing vitamins D and C, zinc, and multiple micronutrients (MMS) would have on the occurrence of acute respiratory tract infections and the duration of their symptoms.

Results of multiple studies showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infections and shortened duration of symptoms by 6 percent. Vitamin C had the same effects to a degree of 9 percent, with a greater effect among men than women, and in middle-income countries in comparison to high-income countries. While zinc in isolation didn’t reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections, it significantly decreased the duration of symptoms.

Takeaways from this important micronutrient study highlight the need for a varied, vitamin-rich diet and regular sun exposure or a high-quality, bioavailable supplement combining vitamins C and D with zinc and essential micronutrients for the greatest degree of protection for your lungs and airways.

Ingesting too much zinc also carries risks. Taking oral zinc in high doses over long periods may lead to copper deficiency. Symptoms of low copper levels include numbness and weakness in your extremities. The National Institutes of Health considers supplementation at 40 milligrams of zinc per day to be the upper limit for adults.

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